Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I'm trying to figure out what bothers me about this article

It's called "I Moved to San Francisco - and Now I Have an App for Everything."  I saw it on Slate, but it apparently first appeared in Business Insider, which doesn't surprise me at all.  It was probably a 43-screen slideshow in its original form.  Business Insider is the worst.

Anyway, amazingly enough, it wasn't the title alone that put me off.  In fact, I've re-read this article three or four times now and I still can't figure out exactly what about it fills me with rage.  Or sadness.  Or some feeling.  I don't even know any more.  I think I'm past the ability to get mad about how we lost San Francisco.  Now I'm just like the French guy weeping when the Nazis march into Paris.

On to the article.  It starts with a description of how convenient everything is near the author's "Upper East Side apartment" in New York City and how there are two Starbucks within 1000 feet of his Dream Pad.  Two Starbucks!  Already sounds like heaven.

Things are more difficult in San Francisco.

It’s not like that in San Francisco, a city where I now have to walk at least 15 minutes up a steep hill to get to my nearest grocery store. Plus, everything closes early. If I want a pint of Ben & Jerry’s at 2 a.m., I can’t just walk to my corner 24/7 bodega like I could in New York. I’m left unsatisfied and ice cream-less.
Shield your eyes, children, so you don't have to see Upper East Side struggle 15 minutes up a steep hill for groceries.  The nearest Starbucks must be way, way more than 1000 feet away.  Maybe even uphill.  Suicide is looking good.

But wait!  In today's San Francisco, there is never a reason to walk uphill or even interact with any of your fellow recent arrivistes.

New Yorkers are probably already familiar with the food-delivery service Seamless, but in San Francisco there’s a Seamless-like app for everything. Your laundry. Housekeeping. Groceries. Car rides. Even booze. And it all comes almost instantly.
Truly we are living in the Promised Land, where even New Yorkers can get instant food delivery in San Francisco.  When we have finished remaking the city, no upper middle class white person shall ever want for anything again.  Starbucks every 999 feet.

I also tried Washio, a service that will pick up your dirty laundry and dry cleaning and have it back to you within 24 hours. Like Sprig, you manage Washio through a smartphone app to schedule your pickup and drop off times. Washio has an army of contractors—or, in startup parlance, “ninjas”—who swing by your place to get your dirty clothes. They also give you a free cookie with every pickup. The first time I tried Washio, my ninja gave me a bonus—a free pair of underwear as part of a cross promotion with another startup. (Yes, you can also get on-demand underwear in San Francisco.)

A free cookie!  I LOVE COOKIES!  And ninjas handing out underwear.  The future will be bright, and we will all wear clean underwear.

(In case you're wondering, unlike your Mom, Washio charges $1.60 a pound to do your laundry, with a minimum 15 pound order, so $24 for your smallest load.  Before we moved and I had a washer/dryer in my house, I used to drop off my laundry at my local wash & fold which charged $1.50 a pound.  I have no idea how Washio is going to make money.)

A dark cloud approaches.  Not everything is right in Magic Startup Land.  A wrinkle has arrived that threatens to ruin Upper East Side's User Experience.

The only negative experience I’ve had so far was with Instacart, an app that sends a personal shopper to a nearby grocery store to pick up whatever you need and deliver it to you within an hour. It works as advertised, but the prices are marked up, and customers run the risk of not being able to get what they want because the store is out of stock. Instacart’s shoppers try their best to find similar items, but in my case I couldn’t justify buying a five-pound package of bananas instead of a normal bunch. 
WHAT THE! The unmitigated GALL of marking up prices when you have a ninja who works on commission and tips doing your grocery shopping for you!  They don't mark prices up at the bodega when I go to get ice cream at 2 a.m.!

So there you go.  It's fun to snark at this and we've had our laughs but I still can't put my finger on what it is about this that bothers me.  Maybe it's just the continuing thread of infantilization, with apps replacing your Mom.  Or maybe that the life the author describes is one in which all the opportunities we used to have for interacting with other citizens - going to the laundromat, grocery shopping, going out to a restaurant - are being replaced by home delivery through your smartphone.  If you never have to see anyone from a different social strata (or, for that matter, a different fucking type of company), it's easy to dismiss their concerns.  Why does the Bayview need a grocery store?  Just use Instacart! Why should I worry about the terrible public transit? I take Uber everywhere. Ew, homeless people. Leaving my apartment is the worst.

It's a lot of things.  Welcome to the New San Francisco, I guess.


GG said...

I'm starting to think that the motto "I think I'm past the ability to get mad about how we lost San Francisco" should replace "San Francisco has always been full of assholes" on our city flag.

t said...

"I think I'm past the ability to get mad about how we lost San Francisco."

THIS. this is exactly how i feel about all of this - tech, mid-market, housing costs, airbnb...this is it exactly.

Lisa said...

If you've never seen the delightful "A Lot Like Love" (no, seriously, delightful) (caveat: I'm a sucker for romance) with Ashton Kutcher (stay with me) and Amanda Peet (probably now more famous for being married to one of the GoT producers), he has this diaper delivery startup with Cal Penn. That gets a bunch of VC money...and then of course the bubble pops and he moves back in with his parents.

I guess what bothers me about this (since you asked) is that it feels like we've been here before. Sure, a couple cool sites where we could get stuff in the late 90s was nice but then geezus do you remember the sock puppet dog ads? I think they were for pet delivery products? I don't even remember! I just remember the dog! And that were a thousand other similarly niche sites like it. And all these kids dropping out of college to code. And then all the sites started to cannibalize themselves and it was annoying. But eventually we got to what we needed. Which is amazon and google and that's pretty much all we need.

This is where we're at again. Do you need 20 apps? Do I need to do ALL this from my phone? Why NOT walk the 1000 feet and, like, go see this city you pay a small fortune to live in?

It's just...too much. And yet all the same. Which makes your sort of unnameable feelings understandable. So. Yeah.

(Sorry, this was wordy. I should probably write my own things more, huh?)

Stephen said...

I think that story has to be read in conjunction with this one:

Rachel said...

Maybe you don't like the guy's whining? That is very off-putting. I can't sympathize with him.

(Lisa, the sock puppet dog is still one of my mom's favorites EVER. We bought her a version of the puppet years ago and it still makes us all very happy. Weird but true!)

Anonymous said...

I think what's bothering you is that you want your city back and you can't have it. What we knew when we got here in the mid-90s is gone. I'm sad it's gone, but I also don't mind seeing what comes next.

Individual apps/websites (instacart/webvan) and assholes come and go, but there is something dynamic and interesting about the startup culture as a whole. 20 years ago the idea of a major city dependent on them for economic growth would have seemed insane. Now it's accepted (even if it's still insane).

It'll never be 1996 again. And while that makes me sad, I'm still excited to see what the kids coming after this latest generation will do with all this nonsense. My guess is things will come full circle and SF will be cool again by 2025.

Andrea said...

I got here in 1991, just one month before my 21st bday. SF was a different place than it is today, but SF is always changing, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse (I think right now is one of those "sometimes for the worse" times)

What bothers me about this particular change in SF is that the community is gone. Nobody talks to each other anymore. Why would you? There's an app that will do the talking for you, and another app that will listen. This particular change in SF is robbing us of our social skills.

Stepping off soap box ..... now

TK said...

All good comments, couple of specific responses:

green flaneur - I certainly hope you're right and this is just the growing pains that will give way to a better SF. And yeah, of course everyone is nostalgic for the Way Things Used to Be. I just read somewhere that everyone wants their city to be just like it was the day they moved there. When I moved here the Embarcadero Freeway was still up, so no, but I get the point.

Andrea - Yeah, that's kind of the point I was trying to make. When you have apps to do everything that used to require face-to-face contact with other people, you start to lose a sense of community. Maybe!

Lisa - There's definitely a deja vu element, and, as I hinted, I don't see how Washio and some others of that ilk can stay in business. I'm pretty sure there will never be a sudden retraction like we saw in 2000-2002 though.

Thanks for the thoughts, guys.

Unknown said...

Over the last year or so, I’ve definitely become one of those people who outsource everything. I use Uber, Lyftline (for when I need to go somewhere further away) and Washio for dry cleaning and laundry. Washio is AMAZING if you haven’t used it. It’s like Uber in that you request a ninja to come to your house, they arrive within whatever half hour time window you select, give you a cookie and reusable bags and then return your clothes ready to put away the next day. SUCH a time saver and actually really affordable. If anyone wants to try it, use the code DAPPER10 for $10 off your first order.

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